Jean Coutu

Jean Coutu, pharmacist and entrepreneur (b at Montréal 29 May 1927).

Coutu, Jean

Jean Coutu, pharmacist and entrepreneur (b at Montréal 29 May 1927). The son of Lucien Coutu, a pediatrician and family doctor in a working class district in east end Montréal, he undertook medical studies before branching out and earning his pharmacy degrees at the Université de Montréal (1949 and 1953).

While still a student, Coutu became the manager of a Pharmacie Leduc and propelled it to the top of the major chain. After graduating, he and five young colleagues wanted to become associates, but the Leduc family refused. He then purchased three other drugstores. When his plan of opening a forth under his own name was blocked, he contested the by-laws of the Québec Collège of Pharmacists, and ended up having these amended with help from the Lesage government.

However, health insurance and the proliferation of patent drugs upset the market; customers wanted advice but also the best prices. So, in 1967, Jean Coutu launched Farmaterias. They offered over-the-counter products at a discount and had immediate success but also many imitators.

In 1969, he created the Jean Coutu Discount Pharmacy chain with extended business hours, and on which he staked all his savings. To support their expansion he opted for franchising and the registration of Jean Coutu Group shares on the stock exchange. A Leader in Québec, he purchased Maxi Drugs and Brooks in the United States, thus heading one of the largest chains in North America. His son Michel would take over the management and presidency of the Jean Coutu Group USA.

Meanwhile, he founded the Québec Association of Pharmacy Owners (1966). With his wife he established the Marcelle and Jean Coutu Foundation (1990) that helped the rural population in Mali combat famine, desertification and illiteracy. In 2000, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem highlighted his patronage. He was in charge of workplace reorganization at the Québec Economic Summit (1996), sat on some dozen boards of directors, and received many honorary distinctions including the Order of Québec (1993) and the Order of Canada (1994).